President Muhammadu Buhari has declared his intention to run for a second term in next year’s general elections. But the popularity of the 85-year old Buhari appears not to be as strong as it was, three years after he assumed power on the crest of popular yearnings for change, particularly because of the growing insecurity, as well as the tough economic situation. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines how the country has fared under his administration.
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s election victory three years ago was a moment of joy for many Nigerians, because it was the first time an opposition party would defeat an incumbent administration. The President’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had an ambitious plan to make the country safe again, to tackle corruption and take into account the interests of ordinary people.
But, three years after he assumed power, has Buhari measured up to the demands of his job? The consensus is that it has been a mixed bag of successes and setbacks for the Buhari administration. The administration is believed to have done well in certain areas, particularly infrastructure, agriculture and recovery of some monies looted from the coffers of the government by key figures of the immediate past administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. On the other hand, it has been widely criticized by a cross section of Nigerians, for failing to deliver on some of his campaign promises.
For instance, the administration’s handling of the deteriorating security situation in the country has exposed it to ridicule than any other issue. It may have subdued Boko Haram insurgents. The terrorist group, which held swathes of territory across the Northeast in 2014, is not as strong as it used to be. But the Buhari administration has a more deadly group of terrorists on its hands, with the upsurge in the killings of so-called herdsmen in Benue, Taraba and elsewhere in the country. The administration has been blamed for allowing the crisis to fester, by failing to take a decisive position on the group from the outset.
With the escalation of the crisis, the government has forced to take the matter more seriously. But, it appears to have lost the initiative, because it is merely reacting to incidents of killings, rather than taking a proactive measure to douse the crisis.
Last week Catholic bishops led a nationwide protest to mark the funeral of two priests and 17 church members that were murdered in Benue State by the herdsmen. Tens of thousands of citizens followed the call of the bishops to come out and protest. They held services and protest marches in several cities across the country. The protest was the latest in the series of moves by the populace to get the government to address what have become spontaneous and regular killings by herdsmen in Benue and Taraba states particularly. The message of the bishops was that the Buhari administration must do more to protect the people. The attack on the church was the latest in a series of clashes in the Northcentral region that have left hundreds of people dead over the past few months.
Observers are wondering why government cannot deal with herdsmen the same way it neutralised the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). A legal practitioner and human rights activist, Mr. Monday Ubani, said the attitude of the government in declaring IPOB a terrorist organization on the one hand and asking Nigerians on the other to bear with the herdsmen, by regarding them as their brothers, speaks volumes about the worldview of the people in power.
The Second Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), added: “This is not fair at all. The IPOB weren’t killing people, but the herdsmen have been slaughtering innocent Nigerians. We read in the newspapers that some of those who attended the funeral of the slain Catholic priests in Benue State last week were ambushed and slaughtered on their way home. Yet, they are not a terrorist group; they are our brothers that should be accommodated.”
Ubani said a modern country should not be run the way Nigeria is being run by the present government. He said: “I agree that a lot has been achieved on the issue of insecurity, by decimating Boko Haram, but virtually nothing has been done to address the menace of Fulani herdsmen that are killing people, especially in the Northcentral region of the country. Besides, the issue of kidnapping is still on the rise; they have not been able to tackle it.
“The government is very averse to criticisms and advice; they are averse to any form of opposition. They don’t like criticisms at all; they see you as an enemy, the moment you have a contrary view to theirs, even if you are their friend and brother. This is not healthy in a democracy.
“As for obedience to the rule of law, their score is zero, because of their disobedience of several court rulings, including that on the detained Shiite leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. There has also been a trampling upon the fundamental human rights of people in the course of the fight against insurgency and this has been corroborated by international agencies. So, they need to do more to avert such tendency in future.”
Food safety activist and founding President, Mycotoxicology Society of Nigeria, Prof. Dele Fapohunda, said the upsurge in herdsmen killings has led to the abandonment of some farms by their proprietors for fear of their lives and that it will also exacerbate ethnic and religious mistrust in the country and make road travels unsafe. He added that the Kaduna-Abuja and Abuja-Lokoja routes are already deadly routes for kidnapping and robbery.
He added: “With this, the gains and enhanced interest recorded in agriculture and food sector may soon be reversed, resulting in an unprecedented profile of food insecurity, if this ugly trend is not curtailed.”
The food safety activist blames rising unemployment, uncontrolled manufacture, importation and use of small arms and huge drug crisis among the youths for the growing insecurity in the country, adding “this is a result of many years of lethargy”. He said: “All these have combined to erase the innocence an average Nigerian youth was known for.”
Fapounda called for massive investment on youths, to make Nigeria attractive to them. He added: “There should be a conscious effort to mop up all illegal small arms in a house-to-house fashion; and periodic direct employment of youths in the area of intelligence gathering. Since anonymity breeds criminality, there should be a robust citizens’ data base and every Nigerian must be identifiable by a constituency. Therefore surveillance through electronic, professional and community development platforms should be intensified. With this, youths will become less restive.”
On the flip side, President Buhari is believed to have taken a number of steps that would go a long way in transforming the economy in the medium and long term. For instance, the administration has gone a long way in its bid to diversify the economy through encouragement of agriculture, particularly the boost in local production of rice.
The country has started reaping the benefits of the availability and accessibility of credit and agro-inputs to farmers, which the administration has facilitated since 2016, through bumper harvests. Through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the government facilitates access to credit for rice farmers in 30 states under its Anchor Borrowers Programme, as well as the rehabilitation and expansion of irrigation facilities and the gradual revival of extension services and these have boosted food production generally and caused a gradual but steady downward slide in the price of rice.
The upsurge in local production of rice, it is said, has not only reduced the country’s food-dependency on other countries, but also narrowed the gap in the country’s balance of trade with other nations.
From all indications, the administration also appears determined to upgrade the country’s infrastructure. The Federal Government on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, approved the transfer of about $650 million (about N198.9 billion) to the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), as the initial funding for the take-off of the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF). The initiative is aimed at eliminating the risks of project funding, cost variation and completion that have plagued the development of the nation’s critical infrastructure assets over the last few decades.
Under the above initiative, the Lagos-Kano Standard Rail Gauge project is on. While the Lagos-Ibadan and the Kano-Kaduna sectors of the project are scheduled to be completed next year, the entire stretch is due for completion in 2021. Meanwhile, negotiations are on for the costal rail project covering 15 cities, from Lagos to Calabar.
This single-minded commitment to upgrading and developing transport infrastructure has seen the government embarking on several road projects across various states. Many of the projects, it is said, had been abandoned in recent years, because of mounting debts owed by the Federal Government to contractors.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, disclosed recently that the administration has invested N2.5 trillion in infrastructure since it came to power in the last three years. Her words: “Overall, our focus has been to invest massively in infrastructure to make sure we get the economy growing. So far, we have pumped in over N2.5 trillion in infrastructure, especially on capital projects between 2015 and 2017.
“If you move around the country, you will see that work is ongoing on roads, power, bridges and other areas. These are really important building blocks for the Nigerian economy. For us to really become competitive, we have to have good transport links; it is very important for the movement of goods across the country efficiently and readily. Look at the road sector, when we came in, it was N90 billion that was invested in the sector in 2015. In 2016, we invested N304 billion on roads.
“So, there has been a new step, which is changing our capital projects. This is the foundation we have identified with more opportunities. All this opportunities are not limited to oil, but spread across the nation. That is why you see projects spread across the nation. For me, that has been one of the biggest changes.”
President Buhari has also been hailed for his courage in attempting to recover some of the country’s looted funds from key officials of the immediate past administration. Ubani acknowledges that some sort of fight against corruption is taking place; at least as far as members of the opposition are concerned. He said: “Prominent government officials talk about it everywhere they go; they are giving the world the impression that they are fighting corruption.
“The good aspect of it is that the issue of corruption has been put on the front-burner. It occupies discussion everywhere. The continuous reference to the issue of corruption, to me, is very good. The only thing is that they have not been able to deal with allegations against their members that are accused of corruption. I hope they will listen to the advice of some of us who are advocating an all-out war against corruption in Nigeria, because it is not a one-man fight; all Nigerians must be involved.
“For us to sustain this war against corruption there must be institutions and there must be policy directions, to champion it, so that no matter who is in power. But, for putting it on the front-burner, I give kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari.”
On the economy, Ubani said the administration has not done badly. His words: “On the economy, I would score the government average. We have been able to record some savings in our foreign exchange reserves. This is because the culture of doing things with impunity has reduced drastically. One acknowledges the fact that some stealing is still going on, even under this government, but it is done in a coded manner.
“On agriculture, they have recorded a pass mark, by making Nigerians to go back to farming and the result has been tremendous. Nevertheless, the activities of the herdsmen are impacting negatively on the government’s policy on agriculture, because a lot of farms have been destroyed by the herdsmen.
“Aside from the glimmer of hope we are seeing in agriculture, the prospects of the economy are still very gloomy. The government is still paying so much to subsidize petrol and the unemployment rate is on the rise. We have not been able to attract new investments in the past three years; we cannot point to a single new one — either institutional or individual — that we have attracted since then. The economy has virtually turned many Nigerians into beggars. I receive an average of five financial requests every day and that tells you the level we have descended to.”
All told, the Buhari administration believes it has not done badly in the last three years, considering what it met on ground when it took over in 2015. One spokesman after another have maintained that the damage done to the economy “in the years of plunder” was massive and that government was doing its best to recover some of the loot.
Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the President, Malam Garba Shehu, listed some of the administration’s achievements in the last three years as follows: “Nigeria exited its worst recession in decades. After five quarters of negative growth, the economy bounced back into positive territory. Agriculture was one of the stars of 2017, posting consistent growth levels even throughout the recession.
“Also, inflation fell for 10 consecutive months during 2017 (February to November). The naira stabilised against the dollar, after the Central Bank introduced a new foreign exchange window for investors and exporters. The stability has attracted billions of dollars in portfolio investments since April 2017.
“On the back of a stable naira and increased investment inflows, Nigeria’s stock market emerged one of the best-performing in the world, delivering returns in excess of 40 per cent.
“Nigeria saw bumper food harvests, especially in rice, whose local production continues to rise significantly (states like Ebonyi, Kebbi, Kano are leading the pack, with Ogun joining at the end of 2017). The price of a 50kg bag of rice – a staple in the country – has fallen by about 50 per cent as local production has gone up.”
Shehu said Nigeria rose 24 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, and earned a place on the list of top 10 reformers in the world. He added: “Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves grew $40 billion, reaching the highest level since 2014. Nigeria also added, this year, an additional $250m to its Sovereign Wealth Fund. Also, Nigeria’s trade balance crossed over into surplus territory, from a deficit in 2016.’’
Under Buhari, revenue-generating agencies have been making massive returns. For instance, the Nigeria Customs Service recorded its highest-ever revenue collection, crossing the N1 billion mark. The target for 2017 was N770 billion; 2016 collection was N898.6 billion. Similarly, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), under the new management appointed by President Buhari in 2016, remitted N7.8 billion to the coffers of the Federal Government. The total amount remitted by JAMB between 2010 and 2016 was N51 million.